What is the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' really like?

Lesson overview

This first lesson in the unit introduces students to the topic of marine plastics. First, they visit the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ and find out what is happening in the middle of the ocean. Then, students will develop their knowledge of ocean currents and how they can concentrate plastic waste. Last, students will investigate how rubbish reaches the middle of the ocean.

Learning outcomes
  • Reflect on marine plastic pollution
  • Describe and locate the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch'
  • Map and investigate ocean gyres
  • Describe how plastic accumulates in gyres and is a global phenomenon
  • Differentiate between managed and unmanaged plastic and explain its pathway to the ocean
Lesson steps
  1. Our plastic journey (10 mins)
    Students start on their journey to understand and tackle the issue of marine plastic pollution by reflecting on what they already know about the topic through the media.
  2. 'Garbage Patch' (10 mins)
    The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' has been an emblematic case study for the plastic pollution problem. Students travel to the centre of the Pacific to study the issue.
  3. How do ocean gyres form? (15 mins)
    The collection of plastics in ocean gyres is caused by rotating ocean currents. Students learn how these currents are formed and how they accumulate plastic.
  4. How does plastic enter a gyre (15 mins)
    Students create a flow chart to show how plastic can reach the ocean and what happens when it gets there.
  5. Wall of plastic (5 mins)
    Students are invited to write on a post-it note or other format how they feel about the issue of ocean plastics.
Additional information: Home learning

A home learning exercise can be set using the story of the rubber ducks that have travelled around the world’s oceans after a cargo ship lost some of a container over the side.